By Rick Vanderlinde, Staff

Innisfil council is promoting urban sprawl and threatening the environment with an official plan that would dramatically increase Alcona’s urban boundaries, Campaign Lake Simcoe says.
“Council’s decision runs up against the province’s apparent concern about protecting Lake Simcoe and its watershed and highlights the need for the draft Lake Simcoe Protection Plan to address population growth issues, which it currently does not,” says Claire Malcolmson, the group’s co-ordinator.
Last week, council unanimously agreed to include lands from Conc. 4 to Conc. 9 in its long-term plans for Alcona.
The proposal, known as OPA 1, must still be approved by the provincial government and the County of Simcoe.
Malcolmson criticized the plan, saying it will amount to paving over more of Lake Simcoe’s watershed.
“Scientists say aquatic biological systems begin to degrade when 10 to 15 per cent of a watershed is paved, or impervious.  The watershed has already reached or exceeded the critical ecological threshold for impervious surfaces,” she said.
However, Mayor Brian Jackson said Innisfil council had Lake Simcoe in mind when it approved OPA 1 last week.
Part of the plan calls for oversized stormwater ponds that will decrease flooding and help purify water before it enters Lake Simcoe.
“I think most of council had that in mind when we made the decision,” Jackson said Tuesday. “The positive aspect is that we may be able to have sustainable growth and control that run-off as well.”
The plan calls for the area to grow by additional 10,000 people over the next 25 years. While council has expanded Alcona’s urban boundaries, Innisfil’s population target of 65,000 people by 2031 has not changed.
“This is a long term plan. There will still be plenty of opportunity for comments and revision in the secondary plans,” Jackson said.
Malcolmson also criticized the province’s Lake Simcoe Plan, which is still at the draft stage, for failing to control urban growth in the watershed.
“Settlement areas must not be expanded and new settlement areas must not be created in the watershed,” she said.
The Lake Simcoe Protection Act and the provincial Places to Grow policy appear to be working at cross purposes, Malcolmson added.
“The province fails to address the issue of growth in the watershed since Places to Grow and the draft Simcoe Plan are contradictory,” Malcolmson said.
Campaign Lake Simcoe and other environmental groups are calling on the provincial government to move new development away from the watershed.
But such a move would doom Innisfil’s growth plans since much of the town’s infrastructure, including the water treatment plant, is in Alcona, Jackson said.
“I don’t know how we would abandon one area and move into another area to accommodate our growth,” Jackson said.